In the Zuni way, each of the six directions is protected by a different animal. Bear protects the west, mountain lion the north, wolf the east, badger the south, mole the lower regions or underground, and eagle the upper regions or skies. Each of these six directions also has a cardinal color: blue for west; yellow for north; white for east; red for south; black for lower; and all colors for upper. An animal carving in its cardinal color has more power, and thus Zuni protective sets often designate the color of each directional animal in some fashion. Before exotic stones were commonly available, animals would bear decorations or mineral paint indicating their cardinal color.
Theodore Kucate was the first Zuni carver known to carve commercially. His work was modeled after anthropologist Frank Hamilton Cushing's report to the Bureau of Ethnology in Washington, DC, in 1883. And it was this report that applied the term “fetich” to these carvings, a term that persists today.
This c.1940 bear by Theodore Kucate is carved of Nutria “sugar daddy” travertine, a honey-brown semi-translucent stone native to Zuni. It is designated “blue” by the addition of pieces of Blue Gem turquoise inlaid into the sides.
Our project for this year—and many more to come—is creating the Zuni Fetish Museum, where we will showcase this unique art form. For this museum, Theodore’s Blue Bear of the West is the perfect symbol, embodying history, culture, and art. Join us for the opening next summer and see this beautiful bear in person!